Let’s face it, technology has been good to us, but it also has taken away many classic art forms. For example, before we had computerized vinyl cut lettering, we had classic sign painters. These people were amazing, they could paint numbers and letters perfectly… without stencils or templates. Before I started working for The Walt Disney Company I worked at a smaller web design firm that was located in the heart of Pioneer Square in Seattle. It’s in the historic district so all the buildings have many classic elements that we rarely see these days. Remember the black outlined, gold leaf foil lettering on office doors? The ones that would read, “Private”, or “Office”. Those are the ones I recreated on my office door. Now, I’m not really into gold, so I used copper instead. You can use real gold, silver, platinum, or any type of foil leaf you can find. I thought it would be a great detail to add my address on the glass above my office door. My address is 326, but to make it fun, I made up a new address for my office. 326 1/2… it is.

In the following post, I’m going to show you my attempt at doing this classic lettering technique on glass… I hope it’s something you’ll try doing in your home or office.

Step 1: Creating the template — Since I’m not a professional freehand sign painter, I needed to create a template so I can easily paint inside the lines. I decided the best way to achieve a perfect outline is by using today’s technologies. Yup, the very ones that killed this technique, a vinyl cut lettering machine. I fired up Adobe Illustrator and found a font I liked. I chose the classic font, Clarendon. I adjusted it a bit (squashed it by a few pixels) until I got it exactly the right size and look. Next, I stroked the font until I got a thick enough outline and then converted the strokes to outlines. Make sure you check it out in “Preview” mode, the vinyl cut machines are like PC Board machines where they use Gerber files, so if you want an outline you need to have two lines (an outside and an inside), the machines can’t read stroke widths.

Next, I emailed my file to my local FedEx Kinkos and had them produce a few templates for me on black vinyl. Remember, to tell them to remove the outline before they apply the sign placement masking tape, since that is where you will be painting onto the glass.

Step 2: Applying the Template — Next, follow the instructions FedEx Kinkos gave you with the vinyl (be sure to clean the glass surface with alcohol before applying the template). You will also get a yellow applicator to help you remove any air bubbles. Make sure you get the edges a stuck to the glass then remove the placement masking tape. You will be left with the vinyl and an outline of the lettering revealing the glass.

Here is a photo of my placement:


The masking tape is removed revealing the outline and glass below:


Step 3: Painting and Leafing — This part requires the most patience. I took an extra precaution and applied masking tape around the area so I didn’t get any paint on any other areas. I used black Delta Craft Air-Dry PermEnamel found at your local craft store (be sure to also use the PermEnamal Step 1 conditioner) and applied it using a 1/4″ wide brush. This is the only stuff I found that sticks to glass. I applied about 4-5 coats. Next, I ordered a copper leaf kit from Dick Blick and removed the inner vinyl from the lettering. I applied the leafing adhesive very carefully with a small tipped art paint brush. Follow the instructions in the kit. I applied two layers of leaf and then applied the included satin sealer. When that is all done, you can carefully remove all the vinyl.

The end result:


No vinyl cut lettering even compares to what this looks like. It takes you back to a time where people had talent and actually created things directly with their hands. If you end up using my technique or you have some photos of a similar approach, I’d love for you to email me some photos.